This week we are starting to prepare for the group’s first cooking gig, which will take place at the end of week 9. Mamas to Market have been hired by a Community Psychology Festival to take care of lunch for the two days their festival is running. It’s very exciting for all of us!
As the group will be serving their first paying customers then, it’s important that we spend some time thinking about the various special needs that customers may have. This ranges from allergies, ethical and religious values to plain simple personal taste. If all of these aspects can be taken into consideration when planning a menu, we’ll be able to make a diverse group of customers happy. And this means that our menu will have a chance of being chosen by more customers in total. We don’t want to rule out all vegetarians for example!
In previous sessions, we’ve already covered the topic of allergens and the women know they have to be able to tell if their dishes contain any of the 14 most common ones. The festival has asked for both vegetarian options and halal food, so we need to think about what options there are that can cover both of these requests. Therefore, this week of preparation will be strictly vegetarian. No meat, and perhaps more difficult, no fish sauce! Sarah has bought lots of ingredients and asks the group to make up a vegetarian menu based on what's there. This week's challenge is the invention test!
As usual, however, the group has quite a few tricks up their sleeves and start preparing vegetarian spring rolls with both fresh and dry tofu, which will be served on top of noodles and with a crunchy salad, also with tofu, as the second dish. To my personal delight they’ll be serving chè trôi nước, the sweet sticky rice dumplings in ginger broth, as today’s dessert. It’s my new favourite, I love the warming broth which I’m sure is good for fending off colds at this time of year, and I love the gelatinous texture and nutty flavour of the dumplings.
As the group gets on with their cooking today, I take my chance to ask them a few questions to find out how they are finding the project at this stage so close to the end.
What do you think of the project?
It’s very good, we wish it would last longer.
What do you want to do in the future? How would you like to use the training in food business – market stall, catering, events etc.?
Not sure. We’d like to see how it goes at the festival because we don’t have much experience. Not so sure about the market stall because we haven’t done something like that before, so we’re not feeling that confident with serving customers...
We like Sarah's support. If she says we have a job, we come in and we do it. It’s better. We are not so sure about everything and for example what to do if something happens. It is much less confusing if we just come in, see the ingredients, and start cooking.
How do you feel about being part of the project?
Diep: It’s been very helpful, it encourages us to try and find a job or something like that. It’s more fun than other jobs. If we continue to do this in the future, I think we can be involved in catering and cooking in the community.
Before, if people would ask me what kind of job I could do it was hard to answer. There would be lots of questions and they would be hard. When this project started I saw that it was something good to do, and it made me realise what skills I do have, such as cooking. And I learn new skills. I would really like the project to continue, but if it stops I’m thinking maybe Sarah or someone else could introduce me to somewhere else where I could do this kind of job.
How does food in London compare to Vietnamese food?
Hoa: I eat Vietnamese food every day. My daughter gets bored and doesn’t want it. If you eat this [crunchy salad] every day it gets boring. My daughter likes English food and English flavours. I had a friend coming to visit me who lives in America. We went to a Vietnamese restaurant in London and had bún thịt nướng and bánh mì It was very different to what we cook here [in the sessions] or how I cook it at home. What you get in restaurants is not the same, they don’t make everything fresh.
It sounds as if I’ve been spoiled rotten by these women, having had a weekly Vietnamese lunch for the past two months, always extremely tasty and fresh. It is also great to hear that they are enjoying the project and that it makes them feel more confident about their skills. For me, having observed the sessions for two months now, I can definitely tell as well that the women are gaining skills and confidence while they get to show off their already amazing cooking skills. It would be so great to see them continue with this once the ten weeks of Mamas to Market have passed.
The first market stall has now been confirmed! Mamas to Market are setting up shop at Roman Road Christmas Market on 7 December – please do join us there for some hearty Vietnamese dishes that are bound to get you warm on a cold December Sunday!